If a List of 10 Rap Artists that crossed over into film with varying degrees of success doesn’t seem timely, it should, because a movie about hardcore rappers came out just last Friday: Step Brothers.
Actually, we’re doing this list in honor of Ice Cube’s film The Longshots, about a young girl playing Pop Warner football. The film is also directed by rap-rocker Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit, so we thought we’d do it all for the nookie and make ourselves a quaint little list for you FSR Rap Junkies who just KEEP INSISTING it get made. There, you can stop emailing us about it.
Arbitrary Rule: Each role must’ve occurred when each actor/actress was still primarily considered a rapper, so something like LL Cool J in Any Given Sunday would not count, but something like Cool in Toys does.
10. Common — Wanted
After appearing in small roles in Hollywood films like Smokin’ Aces and American Gangster, Common seems to be coming into his own with Wanted. Gunsmith is a cool character in this surprise summer hit and Common is watchable. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with Terminator: Salvation alongside Christian Bale next year.
9. Ice-T — New Jack City
Who would think that Ice-T would eventually appear in roughly 50 films and 180 episodes of “Law and Order: SVU?” The rapper made his big splash on the rap scene in the ’80s, but it was his performance alongside Wesley Snipes in New Jack City that started it all. No one else could say “I wanna kill you so bad, my dick’s hard,” with more conviction.
8. Queen Latifah — My Life
Even though she appeared in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever previously, Queen Latifah made a bigger splash in Michael Keaton’s tear-jerker My Life. It’s hard to spot Latifah as Keaton’s caregiver through all the tears, though.
7. Mark Wahlberg — Basketball Diaries
Wahlberg was still very much living the underwear model/Funky Bunch lifestyle when he co-starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in this 1995 film as Mickey, the troubled and unpredictable heroin junky. Wahlberg had only previously been in a small role in Danny DeVito’s Renaissance Man before making a name for himself as an actor with Diaries. Wahlberg would find much better success with Fear and Boogie Nights in the years after 95, but he was still considered a rapper (albeit, not a great one) when Basketball Diaries came out.
6. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges — Crash
I’ve been an outspoken critic against this Haggis disaster since it was released, but I must say I was rather pleased with Ludacris’s performance as Anthony. His character does a nice job of showcasing how you can yell stereotypes in the face but cannot escape their shadow. It’s a really understated and worthy performance and helps that it came after a woeful performance in 2 Fast 2 Furious. But acting alongside Terrence Howard (as he did in 2005’s Hustle and Flow as well) has to be a better experience than trying to play off of Paul Walker.
5. Eminem — 8 Mile
Sure, he may have been playing himself in the Curtis Hanson film, but Marshall Mathers did not disappoint. The 2002 film was considered the Rocky of hip-hop films until Hustle and Flow came along. Eminem held his own in the free-style rap competition at the end and made seasoned veterans Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, and Mekhi Phifer look like actors in community theater. He hasn’t returned to acting since, but his performance in 8 Mile took critics and audiences by surprise.
4. Tupac Shakur — Juice
Tupac, in addition to being heralded as one of the greatest rappers of all time, was terrific in the 1992 film Juice as Bishop. His conviction and confidence when he takes on Steel at a video game and threatens “One, if I lose, I’m gonna beat that ass. Two, if I lose, I’m gonna beat that ass,” well that’s just something we can all relate to. What is surprising about this film is how funny Pac could be in one scene and menacing in the next. It’s a very solid performance.
3. Mos Def — The Italian Job
Mos Def was actually an actor before a rapper, appearing in “The Cosby Mysteries” in the early ’90s under the alias Dante Beze and appeared in the Michael J. Fox movie The Hard Way as Dante Smith. The introspective and conscious rapper became famous in the mid-90s and was in several TV shows and a couple films before 2003’s The Italian Job, with another rapper from this list, Mark Wahlberg. Mos plays Left Ear, one of the professional con-men who attempt to steal from an obviously bored Edward Norton. What surprised me about his performance was his pitch-perfect comic timing and the chemistry he was able to build with co-stars Seth Green and Jason Statham in a limited amount of screen time.
2. Will Smith — Six Degrees of Separation
Although he had a couple seasons of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” under his belt when he did this 1993 film, he was still just considered “The Fresh Prince.” Smith is actually quite good in the role of Paul, the alleged son of Sidney Poitier who convinces Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland to let him stay the night at their place. The movie, based on the play, shows how versatile an actor Will Smith can be when he wants to do something challenging.
1. Ice Cube — Boyz n the Hood
Before Friday, Are We There Yet?, Barbershop, and each franchise’s sequels, Ice Cube established himself as a solid actor with his first appearance on screen. Cube’s portrayal of Doughboy in John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood is a true standout. He’s an enigmatic and charming leader but is also very disturbed and dangerous. Cube plays the duality of the role very well, and it’s a shame another decent part never came across him again or he never sought it out. On a side note: Look at how much promise Cuba Gooding Jr. had when Boyz came out. How does he go from this to Snow Dogs and Radio?
So there you go. Feel free to let me know if I missed some solid performances from rap artists. Off the top of my head I can think of Lauren Hill in Sister Act 2 as a pretty decent one. Just don’t try to convince me that 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg are worthy thespians. Have you seen Hood of Horror?